It's not robbery if someone wants you to take it.
Above is another digest novel from Florence Stonebraker, this time writing as Tom Stone to produce Stolen Love. It was originally published in 1937 as Too Much Love, with this Griffin Books re-issue arriving in 1946 fronted by a cover painted by Glenn Cravath. The book deals with popular New York City radio personality Kay Brinkley—better known as the Voice of Romance—who hosts a lonely hearts call-in show, but is actually cynical about love and thinks her job is a high paying joke.
Her boyfriend asks her to head out to San Francisco to close a business deal for him, and she develops a case of wandering eye before the train even reaches the Rocky Mountains. Once out west she's smitten with the man who's supposed to provide her with important papers, while a couple of other guys, in turn, are seriously smitten by her. Complications arise when her NYC boyfriend unexpectedly flies to San Fran, putting him in direct romantic competition with his business acquaintance.
Kay gets laid with a total of three men as required by most of these digests, and attacked by one, definitely not a requirement, before finally returning to her original boyfriend, a forbearing sort who doesn't begrudge Kay her carnal explorations. The story is a tangled web, written in the usual Stonebraker style, already well in evidence though this was one of her first books. It's no wonder she became such a popular author. She's no Jane Austen, but in the realm of sleazy romance she's about as good as it gets.
Africa gets extra hot in Garnier jungle drama.
Once again we've been drawn to literature set in Africa, this time in the form of Christine Garnier's romantic drama Fetish, originally published in 1951 in French as Va-t'en avec les tiens! Our edition is from 1953, published by Dell, translated into English, and bearing excellent cover art by Griffith Foxley. The rear cover is interesting as well, particularly because Dell toplined a middling review from Time magazine after molding it into glowing praise: As stirring and authentic as a native dance... throughly convincing... effective... flashing. What the review actually said, in part, was: Garnier [combined] her minor talent for fiction with her knowledge of African life. The result was Fetish, a novel which sold a phenomenal (for France) 135,000 copies. Garnier still lacks skill as a novelist, but in Fetish it scarcely seems to matter. The book's main virtue is its French West African background, as stirring and authentic as a native dance.
Okay, Time magazine can take a flying leap. Garnier can write just fine. Fetish is about a Westernized African woman named Doéllé who works in the Manoho district of Togoland as a nurse for a French doctor. She has a white lover named Flavien who's a local magistrate. When the doctor's hot wife Urguèle arrives from Paris, every white man in the district—including Flavien—desires her. Doéllé is likewise thought by all to be quite a dish. But she isn't white. Urguèle's easy assertion of privilege, and her husband's eventual realization that she wishes to stray, sets up a dangerous love rectangle that propels Doéllé toward—let's say—locally traditional solutions for the problem, despite her education and Westernization.
Fetish avoids some pitfalls of mid-century novels written by whites about Africa. Actually, “avoid” makes it sound conscious. Garnier is simply a sensitive writer, and because the story is narrated by Doéllé, it lacks some of the usual arrogance toward its setting. Time noted that authenticity is a strength of the book, and that's correct. One aspect of this authenticity that goes against the grain of every book we've ever read set in Africa is that, according to Garnier, it was impossible for whites to have a secret affair. Africans were so fascinated and mystified by these pale aliens, as well as wary of them, that they never left them unobserved, and shared everything seen and overheard. Even barred from places, they still noted all who came and went where they themselves weren't allowed. That extreme lack of privacy rings true to us, due to our many experiences as foreigners in tropical hamlets.
As we said, Doéllé narrates Fetish, and because she's acquainted with so many native children and servants in Manoho, she's the beneficiary of all their observations, eavesdropping, and gossip, as described above. The book's point of view shifts between first person, to third person filtered through the many eyes and ears of the district, and even farther, as Doéllé extrapolates Urguèle's, Flavien's, and others' innermost thoughts and musings. In practice she's a first-person, limited-third-person, and unlimited-omniscient narrator. We thought that was a nice trick by Garnier. So Fetish has authenticity, atmosphere, star-crossed lovers, and a good story, all well woven. Time can get bent. Was the book pulp? Not really, but there's passion and danger, and we found it enjoyable.
This little baby is going to revolutionize the sex toy industry. And the best part is I can fly it directly to buyers.
We can send billionaires into orbit but we can't invent self-delivering sex toys? Seriously? We don't think it's a lack of brainpower so much as a case of backward priorities. All those scientists need to think less about outer space, and more about inner space. There's still so much to be discovered there. 1956 copyright on this, with James Meese cover art.
You think crawling is going to help? Have some pride. Get up and take it like a man.
Above, a fun shot of U.S. actress Tippi Hedren, née Nathalie Hedren, made when she was filming the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Marnie. Despite having one of the odder pseudonyms of the era there's no elaborate story involved. Her father nicknamed her Tippi when she was four. Hedren also appeared in such films as The Birds, The Harrad Experiment, and the unbelievable Roar. Have you heard of Roar. No? Well, it's certainly one of the most bizarre movie projects in history.
Rather than get into the plot (such as it is), we'll just tell you that during its making Hedren broke her leg after being bucked off an elephant's back, and received thirty-eight stitches after a lioness gnawed the back of her head. In addition, her daughter Melanie Griffith, cinematographer Jan de Bont, and producer Noel Marshall were also mauled by lions. Griffith needed fifty stitches in her face and plastic surgery, de Bont needed one hundred twenty stitches and his scalp sewn back in place, and lucky Noel Marshall merely developed gangrene.
If you haven't seen Roar and are an aficionado of weird cinema, we can't recommend watching that one highly enough. Ironically, while we've seen that all-time obscurity, we haven't seen the well-known Marnie. But there's a reason—one of the worst people we ever knew, someone who stole several of our most prized belongings, was named Marni, so avoiding that reminder has kept us from getting around to the film. But it isn't like that's Tippi's fault, so her movie is finally in the queue. When we watch it we'll report back.
She wanted fame and found it in the worst way.
Above is a photograph of actress Jean Spangler superimposed over an image of Fern Dell, which is a wooded area of Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Generally, this is labeled a vintage photo, but to our eyes it looks like the Fern Dell section is a contemporary shot, possibly even a digital one. Well, even if a blogger made this composite it's one of the most interesting Spangler images to be found. Today in 1949 the aspiring actress left her home to go to work on a movie set, stopped in a grocery store, and disappeared, never to be seen again. Her purse was later found in Fern Dell with a note inside: “Kirk: Can't wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away."
Spangler had just finished working on the film Young Man with a Horn with Kirk Douglas, so the note led to speculation about her relationship to the actor. Douglas was in Palm Springs at the time of the disappearance, and he was never a suspect, but Hollywood gossip centered around Spangler possibly having had an affair with him, getting pregnant, seeking an abortion, and dying during the procedure. Since none of the film studios had any record of Spangler being scheduled to work the night of her disappearance, it was clear she was going someplace in secret. In this telling the abortionists disposed of her body, though why they'd leave her purse in Griffith Park is a mystery.
Another theory had her running away with the gangster Davy Ogul. She had met him while working as a dancer at Florentine Gardens and had been seen in his company away from the club. He was under indictment and possibly facing prison time, so when he disappeared two days after Spangler, theorists put them together fleeing to Mexico or beyond. The problem with this idea is that Spangler had family and a five-year-old daughter in Los Angeles, which makes her simply running away forever, with no attempts to make contact, unlikely. It also fails to explain the purse and note.
The case stayed hot for a while, but after reward offers, thousands of police hours expended, speculative tabloid articles, and claimed sightings in California, Arizona, and Mexico City, authorities were baffled. In Texas a hotel clerk who claimed he'd seen Ogul with a mystery woman identified Spangler from a photo, but her photo had been in every paper in the U.S. by then. There were no firm answers anywhere. In the end Spangler's disappearance was never solved, leaving her another atmospheric Hollywood tale, and another cold case in the files of the LAPD.
There's a sucker born every minute. And they die just as fast.
Fredric Brown's Madball was hard as hell to get at anything approaching a reasonable cost but we finally scored a copy. It's one of the more famous novels in the fertile carny niche, and had two amazing covers which you see above, the first by Griffith Foxley for the 1953 Dell edition, and the second by Mitchell Hooks for the 1962 Gold Medal edition. What's a madball? It's a gazing crystal. What's Madball about? After an insurance settlement a carnival worker comes into a couple of thousand bucks. When he's murdered his nest egg seems like the motive. But what nobody knows—or what nobody is supposed to know—is that he'd also been an accomplice in a bank robbery and possessed not just a couple of thousand dollars, but more than $40,000. That's about $380,000 in today's money—sufficient to inspire desperation and bloodthirsty viciousness. Madball is set apart by its weird backdrop, its odd carny denizens, its multi-pov narrative, and its sexual frankness. It's a mad tale, improbably plotted, testing the limits of believability, but recommended. See more carny fiction here, here, and here.
Vintage paperback violence gets up close and personal.
We have another collection today as we prepare to jet away on vacation with the girls. Since the place we’re going is known for rowdy British tourists (what place isn’t known for that?), we thought we’d feature some of the numerous paperback covers featuring fights. You’ll notice, as with our last collection, the preponderance of French books. Parisian publishers loved this theme. The difference, as opposed to American publishers, is that you almost never saw women actually being hit on French covers (we’d almost go so far as to say it never happened, but we’ve obviously not seen every French paperback ever printed). The French preferred man-on-man violence, and when women were involved, they were either acquitting themselves nicely, or often winning via the use of sharp or blunt instruments.
Violence against women is and has always been a serious problem in the real world, but we’re just looking at products of the imagination here, which themselves represent products of the imagination known as fiction. Content-wise, mid-century authors generally frowned upon violence toward women even if they wrote it into their novels. Conversely, the cover art, stripped of literary context, seemed to glorify it. Since cover art is designed to entice readers, there’s a valid discussion here about why anti-woman violence was deemed attractive on mid-century paperback fronts, and whether its disappearance indicates an understanding of its wrongness, or merely a cynical realization that it can no longer be shown without consequences. We have another fighting cover here, and you may also want to check out our western brawls here.
Okay, we’re ready to go. Um, anytime lazybones. Helloooo. Geez, it’s like he doesn’t even hear us.
Above, a cover for Three Women in Black, a mystery by the prolific American author Helen Reilly, née Helen Kieran, 1953. Part of the Inspector McKee series, this is the story of a wealthy man murdered in a roomful of people, an event which is followed by a second murder, and the uncovering of motives involving blackmail and a hidden inheritance, with a love triangle to add spice to the proceedings. Reilly was a heavyweight in the mystery genre and most of her books sold well and read well, but this one is among her best. The nice art is by Griffith Foxley.
The mission statement was simple—take potshots at every star in the firmament.
Top Secret is in fine form in this issue from October 1962 as it goes after all the biggest celebrities in Hollywood and Europe. Treading the line between journalism and slander is no easy feat, but take notice—Top Secret’s editors and hacks manage to pull off a high wire act. And of course this was key to the tabloids' modus operandi—they had to present information in a seemingly fearless or even iconoclastic way, yet never actually cross the line that would land them in court.
For example, there’s this dig at Frank Sinatra: “Mr. Snarl, Mr. Nasty, Mr. Do-You-Want-A-Belt-In-The-Mouth was as gentle as a lamb. Gone was the usual sneer, the wise-guy leer. Was this the same surly singer whose idea of a good morning’s exercise had been to watch his bodyguards work over a photographer?”
Grace Kelly takes a few arrows: “It’s a pretty good bet that the immediate bust-up of the marriage won’t come in the next few months, but it sure as shooting looks like her six-year reign as the glamorous princess of that silly little kingdom on the Mediterranean is going to blow up in her prim face.”
Christina Paolozzi gets roughed up thusly: “If anything, Christina in the buff is proof that clothes are an underdeveloped girl’s best friends. Therethe Countess stands with a pleased expression that seems to say, ‘Aren’t I something, Mister?’ But all it takes is one quick look to see that there isn’t really anything to get excited about—unless [you love] barbecued spareribs.”
Anita Ekberg receives this treatment: “[La Dolce Vita] was something like a peek into the boudoir antics of its star—the gal with the fantastic superstructure that looks like nothing less than two tugboats pulling a luxury liner into port.”
And what tabloid would be complete without Marilyn Monroe? Top Secret says she’s dating writer José Bolaños (who the magazine calls a Mexican jumping bean). Editors opt to unveil the news this way: “It seems that this bold bundle of blonde has suddenly gone on a strange Mexican hayride!!! Si, amigo, MEXICAN!”
And then there’s cover star Elizabeth Taylor: “And she acted wilder than ever, satisfying all her most urgent urges for Dickie in the most wide open ways. [She] had jumped from tragedy right into disgrace by having a wild fling with Eddie Fisher a mere six months after hubby Mike Todd had been planted six feet under. ‘Mike is dead, and I’m alive,’ she said cynically after running off for a riotous romp in the fall of 1958 with the guy who just then happened to be married to Debbie Reynolds. 'I’m not taking anything away from Debbie, because she never really had it,' luscious Liz sneered."
This issue of Top Secret is, succinctly put, a clinic in mid-century tabloid writing—alliterative and spicy, insinuative and sleazy, but never quite legally actionable. How could Ekberg argue that the tugboat similie wasn’t interpretable as a compliment? Could Christina Paolozzi deny that her ribs show? Could Sinatra claim that his bodyguards neverslugged a photographer? The magazine skirts the edge a bit with Taylor—did you catch how the editors paired “urges for Dick(ie)” with “wide open ways”?—but was she misquoted or truly slandered? Highly doubtful. Top Secret is pure, trashy genius. Magazines don’t have such writing anymore, and that’s probably a good thing—but it sure is fun to look back at how things were. More scans below. |
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